Chapter 14: A Lady Named Samantha
Copyright© 2011 by TC Allen
My still discolored eye gave me "braggin' rights," when we went to church the following Sunday after the big fish adventure. It had begun to fade by then but was still noticeable.
Of course, in a close-knit community like ours everyone already knew at least one version of the truth. Those who had witnessed the incident had to tell everybody else who wasn't there about our altercations with the two Bradleys, father and son. As always, something got added or changed or omitted with each retelling. Truth never got in the way of a good story or a hot rumor, at least not in Oklahoma.
That I had broken an adult's finger in an altercation, even the little finger, was a status builder. It was an accident on my part because I never meant to break his finger when I pried his hand off Sam's shoulder. On the other hand, there was no way I would have been willing to admit it by then. I would not have lied about it, as in tell a direct lie, but I did lie by omission because I didn't try to correct people's misconception as to whether I broke his finger on purpose.
The funny thing about it all is I did not like to fight; but on the other hand, I didn't mind being thought of as "manly." And since Sam broke Ray Bradley's jaw and two fingers on his hand when he got fresh with her the whole community was gossiping.
Then when I broke his dad's finger stories flew all over again. Pa was already known as the strongest man in our end of the state and a dangerous one to rile. When he capped off the trouble with the Bradleys by literally dragging Mister Bradley outside one handed, we became a local legend, at least for a while.
With all the tales and rumors flying around, the old biddies were all set to do a real character assassination on Sam. Then when we four came to church and sat in our usual pew, all tongues stopped flapping. I even heard a few gasps and a couple of "ohs and ahs."
The pretty and wholesome looking young lady with the almost too short bobbed hair who walked beside me looked like anything but the unruly tomboy who reportedly broke Ray Bradley's jaw and did the other hurtful things to him. Why she just looked too shy and demure and genteel to do anything so unladylike.
My chest stuck out a little further than usual and I felt proud as I walked beside my cousin Sam. Ma and Pa smiled their greetings and nodded to other members of the church. Brother Moore started the services and we all sang the prerequisite three hymns and were dismissed to go to our Sunday school classes. I went to mine and Sam went to the young adults.
After Sunday school class was out, we all met back at our pew. Sam had a young man her age in tow. He looked at us real nervous when Sam said, "This is Hank Cossinger, and he wants to sit with us."
Pa started to frown, but Ma put a cautioning hand on his arm and answered, "Why that would be lovely. I know your parents quite well. They are fine people." He nodded to us, smiled and slipped in next to Sam. They didn't hold hands or even touch, but by sitting with her in church he had stated his desire to become a suitor for Sam's hand. His romantic interest was quite plain to see.
We all sat together during the services and after the closing prayer we got up and left along with the rest of the congregation. As we walked out of the church Hank nervously looked up at Pa and asked, "Could I come by your house next Friday evening about seven if it's all right with you and Samantha, sir?" He looked like he was afraid Pa was going to cloud up and rain all over him.
Pa frowned and looked at Ma. Ma smiled and looked at Sam. Sam smiled and looked at Hank. They all just stood there looking at each other. I shifted my feet and watched them look at each other and say nothing. It irritated me how this guy wanted to go with my cousin Sam. I was jealous.
"Do come a bit earlier, about six, and have dinner with us, Hank. We would love to have you." She patted his shoulder and we began to walk toward our truck. Pa, Ma and Sam rode up front and I sat on my usual perch. As soon as we got home and Pa stopped the truck we all piled out. Pa frowned as he held the door open for Ma and Sam to get out of the truck.
Without preamble, he said, "The bank is holding an auction tomorrow night. We might go."
"Well, what brought this on?" Ma asked.
"We rode to church and the poorest person there had a better vehicle than we do it seems. Now you know I don't hold with trying to keep up with the Jonses, but we could maybe afford something better than this old stake side truck. Maybe we ought to get a car too."
"Well, if you would like to look things over at the auction, perhaps we might happen upon something likely. You're the best judge of such things, Walter."
I always loved it when Ma began to defer to Pa the way she was just then. In this case it meant she wanted better transportation also. I already knew she was dissatisfied with the truck. She had begun to "notice little things" wrong with the truck for the past few months.
I often wondered how much of what I witnessed was manipulation and how much was just the interaction between two people who were happily married. Sometimes it seemed they were holding two conversations at once, one verbal and one where no words were spoken. Sometimes a gesture or a shrug spoke volumes.
We all went into the house and Ma started our late dinner. We usually arrived home from church about one or two in the afternoon, depending on how long winded the preacher was on a particular Sunday. This time it was almost three in the afternoon and I was hungry. Sam helped Ma get the food ready.
We almost always had chicken on Sunday for our midday meal. There would be fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and fresh salad in season and canned vegetables out of season. Usually we had potato salad and cooked beets or corn. Of course there was plenty of fresh milk and bread and butter.
Our desert varied between peach or apricot cobbler, or pumpkin pie and, of course, great quantities of whipped cream. By today's teachings, we should all have had our arteries completely blocked. It is my particular belief we worked so hard we burned up the extra calories.
I watched Sam copy Ma's every movement. One thing about my Ma was how she could give ladylike lessons to the Vanderbilts and the Astors. She was also a very good teacher. To cap it all off, Sam was a natural born mimic and watched Ma continuously, as she copied all her mannerisms. Although I would never have said anything to them, I thought it was funny to watch when Sam and Ma were in the room together.
Sam had Ma's movements down to the point to where it was almost as if I was looking at Ma and a mirror image of her at the same time. Pa had noticed it too and we laughed about it away from the house, but never where Ma or Sam could hear it. We wouldn't have dared. Women seem to lack a sense of humor on so many things men thought humorous.
The following evening after chores we all piled into the truck and went to the auction. It was held out at the fairgrounds. The bank had foreclosed on another unfortunate soul who couldn't afford to keep up his payments. I always felt sorry when people lost all they had. But like Pa would to point out, if you don't go into debt, the bank can't foreclose on you. This was but one of the many good lessons I learned from him.
A two year old Ford four-door sedan came up on the block. Pa waited. He was never the one to start the bidding. His strategy was to wait, let the other man bid and then enter the bidding only if things looked right. Pa always got his dollar's worth. He never let anybody bid something up on him. Sometimes the auctioneer would have a confederate in the crowd in order to try to run the price up by bidding when he had no intention of buying. It was the case on this particular evening.
Finally, one man bid a hundred. Another person bid a hundred ten. And then nothing. Just before the gavel fell, Pa called out, "One twenty-five. Anybody wants it, bid a dollar more and it's yours.
The shill for the auctioneer called, "One twenty-six."
Pa called out, "It's yours." he turned his back and then turned back around and said, "I take back my other bid. You and I both know your man isn't going to pay for the truck. If I bid on anything else, tell your man to keep his trap shut." Those were strong words, especially from Pa. He had a very strong sense of right and wrong, though, and did not like even minor dishonest practices.
The auctioneer sputtered and tried to deny he was doing anything dishonest. But the crowd believed Pa and it took a while before anyone bid on anything again. The shill disappeared and wasn't seen again for the rest of the evening. The shill was present at other auctions we attended from time to time. But if Pa bid on something he "kept his trap shut."
Sam bid on a tortoise shell comb set and a pair of China bristle brushes. She paid almost a dollar for them. A woman and small girl were standing off to one side. "That lady bought your comb and brush set, Mamma," the girl said. There were tears in the woman's eyes. She couldn't answer; she just nodded instead.
Sam overheard as she went to pay for the set. Without a word, she took the combs and brushes over to the woman and placed them in her lap. She quickly walked off before thanks could be given. Ma patted her shoulder and said, "You did a very nice thing there, dear."
Sam answered her, "I never had all very much and what I had got taken away from me, on more than a few occasions. I just couldn't stand by and let them lose something they cherished so much." I looked at her and winked because I just knew my cousin Sam was somebody real special.
Others had noticed Sam's kindness and remarked on it between themselves. Her little gesture had people talking about what a fine charitable young lady Sam was. Forgotten was the brawler who broke boys jaws.
I kissed her on the cheek to show my appreciation of her fine qualities. A couple of people frowned at such an open display of affection. Neither Sam nor I cared what anyone thought.
The Ford came up for sale again that evening as we knew it would. Pa waited and when someone else bid a hundred, he bid a hundred twenty-five dollars. It was his one and final bid. Nobody else offered more. People who knew Pa knew when he said something it was final. Pa got his car.
Then came the most electrifying words a boy can hear, "You think you could drive the old truck home, son?"
What a question to ask a young man. To have the opportunity to drive the entire distance from the auction all the way home was a dream come true. I had driven the truck from the barn to the house or around the farm a few times, but this was different. I would be out on the highway all by myself, driving our old truck home.
No matter how excited I felt inside, I knew I had better not show it. The best way to put Pa off was to act like an anxious puppy. "I sure can drive it home for you Pa," I told him seriously.
He smiled his quiet smile and said, "Let's go."
While he did the paperwork on the new Ford, I started the old one. It fired right up. Puddy Hicks, a guy in my grade in school asked, "Your dad let you start your truck by yourself?"
"Yup, and I'm goin' to drive it home by myself, too," I told him. This was the best part of getting to drive the truck home, to be able to show off my "maturity" in front of someone else my age.
Pa came up in a bit and called, "Ready, Davy? You lead the way."
"I sure am, Pa," I called back proudly. I made a big show of getting in the truck and putting it in gear and driving off, slowly and carefully. My headlights cast yellow cones of light ahead of me as I drove home. Pa followed behind, staying far back. I was very excited Pa trusted me enough to drive the truck by myself.
I watched the road ahead of me with care and kept check in the bar pits too. There were still a few deer around and I watched out for them and all other possible dangers. This first time to drive a vehicle solo was almost as great as when Pa gave me my first gun.
All too soon the short trip was over and I drove the truck up next to the barn. I shut the engine off and hurried toward the house where the new car was stopped. "You did a fine job of driving home, David," Pa said, "You did a real fine job." He slapped me on the back and I felt my knees begin to buckle. I hated it when he did that. Pa just didn't know his own strength.
Sam told me, "You did pretty good for a boy." I knew she was joking and took no offense. Instead I grinned back at her and nodded my head.
We all went inside and straight to bed. I had trouble going to sleep when I lay down on the bed. When I closed my eyes I could see the view through the windshield. I thought about asking Pa if I could sometimes drive the new car to town. Then I decided I had better wait a while.
I knew better than to try to hurry Pa along. Although some kids could wheedle and whine and get their way, with Pa it would be a good way to get your butt smacked. He had never spanked me all very much, only a couple of times in my whole life. But those two times each left a lasting impression as was intended. I never ever wanted a third sampling.
I woke up and hopped out of bed all ready to face the new day. The memory of driving home all by myself was fresh in my mind. Sam was up already and dressed. "I'll walk out with you to get the cows, Davy, if you don't mind."
I nodded and was trying to figure how to start talking about the previous night. "You really liked it when you got to drive the truck home, didn't you?" she said.
"It was the greatest," I told her. "And I did it all just right and my Pa saw it. I drove it good and he told me so."
"You sure are lucky to have a daddy like Uncle Walt. He loves you and shows you he does." Her voice was choked in her throat.
"Didn't your pa love you?" I asked softly. I just couldn't imagine a father who didn't love his child and show it.